No one leaves Charleston hungry. It is a must-visit travel locale for foodies not to mention historians, hospitality seekers and architecture buffs.
Chefs here preserve the integrity of the area's wonderful low country cuisine while infusing global touches on local foods. From raising their own veggies and pigs, treating them to the occasional slurp of chocolate milk, to creating a club for patrons of their home made charcuterie, a nearby and personal farm to plate connection is emphasized.
Tip: Don't miss the grits or tomato pie at Dixie Supply Company. Rachel Ray rightfully raves over the sweet potato pancakes at Joseph's.
Not surprisingly, Culinary tours are popular. On Fridays, some tours include a chef's tour through his kitchen. Culinary Tours of Charleston, can set you up with a variety of choices but be warned, these are walking tours.
Warning: Charleston is flat but nothing is level. You have to watch your step here because much of the city has been built on fill and over the centuries, a good bit of settling occurred. It still is, so stop when you spot something worth a look.
You will find much to linger over which is good because in the summer, Charleston is hot and no one in their right mind moves far fast.
Tip: Wander the residential areas in the early morning or late afternoon when the heat's down.
The days are long gone when an open garden gate meant you were welcome to go in and look around but stop and peek through those closed wrought iron gates. You can get a hint of the marvelous gardens beyond. When it's hotter than the latest new uber chef, go from one air conditioned store to another or give up, retire to your hotel and take a nap.
Charleston is a city you need to walk and most can handle it if headquartered in a well-located hotel. Just remember to make frequent stops on a shady bench.
There are no hop-on, hop-off vehicles circulating around the peninsula but you can't walk a block without seeing a tour group going by on foot, in a horse and wagon, a van or small bus. I'd recommend starting with a horse-drawn tour. The pace is slow enough to peek behind the fences and you can make note of where you'd like to return for a longer look.
Tip: The concierge at The Mills House recommends Charleston Tours and Touring Charleston.
To cool off, tea is the beverage of choice. Traditionally served sweet it can be cloyingly so. The alternative is to order a half-and-half, half sweet, half unsweetened.
The coolest new adult beverage for hot weather is Firefly sweet tea infused vodka with a splash of lemonade. It's fast becoming a local tradition.
Definitely visit Charleston, the city where Southern hospitality was born.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Still on food but back to level travel in pre-Alp Switzerland and what to do besides skiing, hiking or mountain climbing.
After a night spent in Charmey sleeping to the sound of cow bells in the pasture behind the hotel, the drive to Fribourg is a treat. Cats out hunting in dewy pastures the shade of golf course greens, apples ripening on the trees and firewood stacked neatly for winter.
We arrived at the Sarine River which winds through the medieval town and its modern city and walked across the flat bridge to the 13th-14th century lower town at the end of the peninsula.
Warning: This may be the last flat thing in Fribourg. We're getting closer to the Alps and changes in elevation, not to mention cobblestone streets abound. It won't be hard to take your time because there's much to see and photograph as you make your way up to the level before the next hill.
There was a flea market in the lower square and, on this the last day of the annual medieval festival, costumed children and adults frolicking down the hill as we walked up. This was and is a university town and was an important stop for pilgrims on the way to San Juan de Compostela in Spain. Look for the directional sign on the wall to the left.
As the hill levels the market square begins; venders of flowers, artisanal cheeses, chocolates, freshly picked mushrooms and colorful vegetables line the pedestrian way.
Just when you think you can't climb another step an even higher hill - many of us would call it a mountain - looms.
Tip: Thankfully, there's a funicular powered entirely by water (!) that takes you to the top.
If you can't linger overnight in Fribourg, as we wanted to but couldn't, give your feet a rest, have a light lunch and drive on to Gruyeres
Tip: To sound like a native, remember it's le Gruyer for the cheese, Gruyeres for the city and la Gruyere for the region
No doubt, this is cheese country with at least one cow for every resident in the region. Necessary because it takes 400 litres of milk to produce one kilo of cheese.
By all means take in a cheese factory to see how Gruyer and Vacherin Fribourgeois are produced. Do sample, but save yourself for dinner - fondue and raclette, of course, the local specialties.
Tip: Always utilize horse-pulled wagons and miniature train trolleys when offered. It's really hilly here.
It's a hike but do tour up through Gruyeres and its castle. There's good window shopping en route so it's easy to pace yourself.
The count didn't need a castle - he had no enemies - but all the other counts had one so in 1250 he built his. The family was cultured; arrtists and musicians were frequent long-term visitors. There are Corot paintings on the wall and Franz Liszt left his piano to them. Half of the hotel has been turned into a museum of fantasy art.
To the delight of visitors - this is as touristy as Fribourg is not - costumed Alpenhorn players and flag tossers regularly demonstrate their talents during the day in the courtyard outside the castle.
As you leave the castle, to the left is the H. R. Giger Gallery - not for the faint of heart and only if you are into surrealistic sadism - and to the right is a cafe based on the Alien of film fame. Giger is the artist who won as Oscar for the original's special effects. Go inside and you'll feel like you are inside one.
There are many charming restaurants for dinner but I know Hostellerie St.-Georges serves a memorable raclette.
From here you can close the circle with a stop in Lausanne and the shores of Lake Geneva or go on to the real Alps. Even in St. Moritz there are level spots!
Finding crystals is easy.
Finding diamonds is hard.
Diamonds and crystals are yours for the finding when you travel to Arkansas.
Finding a diamond is a bit like winning the lottery but the world's only public diamond mine is relatively on the level so you might as well try.
At Crater of Diamonds State Park, two miles southeast of Murfreesboro on Arkansas Hwy 301, it costs $6.50 for adults and $3.50 for children ages 6-12 to dig. Equipment rental - plastic stools, screens for sifting and buckets for collecting - costs more depending on how elaborate and serious your search will be.
The "mine" is like a roughly furrowed field into which diamonds and other rocks have been washed by rain from the volcanic vent. Periodically the park rangers turn over the dirt to facilitate fresh finds. They also give visitors free lessons on how to go about diamond finding.
There are three ways: Fill up buckets with dirt and bring it back to a water station and wash the clay from, hopefully, the stones. Take your bucket, spade, screen and stool out to a likely spot and dry sift. Walk down the furrows looking for the telltale clear opacity of a diamond (the way the biggest are found).
Heat and patience levels dictate how diligent your search will be. People - usually the most patient - do find diamonds here.
Tip: If one member of your group flags before the others do, there's a large swimming pool, a gift shop, vending machines, bathrooms and air conditioning at the nearby park headquarters.
Crystals are much easier to find and "harvest". Mount Ida is the area for these pleasers. Drive along the road toward town and pick a rock shop that appeals to you. Go inside and they can direct you to a crystal mine. The map will cost $10-$20 per adult per day, $5 to $10 for children, and will take you up a winding mountain road to the top where the owners have dumped tailings from the open pit.
You can keep as many crystals as you find and want.
Of course you can eliminate the driving and dirty digging by picking out a crystal you like at the shop and buying it, but that's no way to have fun or impress your friends.
These are neat day excursions for anyone staying in the Hot Springs area.
Tip: If the kitsch there gets you down, consider shifting your stay to a more resort-like setting. Mountain Harbor is a delightful facility with rooms, cabins and houses for nightly or weekly rental. You'll find the country's only floating Subway, an excellent restaurant, a grand spa, unfortunately with unavoidable stairs, and even horseback riding. It's on the very large Lake Ouachita and if stationary rooms are too tame, try a houseboat.
If you prefer the state park route, you can rent cabins and yurts in DeGray Lake Resort State Park or rooms at the lovely lodge. The restaurant there is good, the boating is fun and the fishing is fine. There's a pool, horseback riding, even a golf course. In-room massages can be arranged.
You'll have earned a bit of pampering after digging for those sparklers.